The Evolution of Sound and Sound Design for the Stage

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Transcript The Evolution of Sound and Sound Design for the Stage

The Evolution of
Sound Design for
the Stage
Development of Background Sound and
Special Effects for a Live Performance
• Sound is a unique and central part of human
– In the modem world we are constantly
surrounded by sound of some kind, even though
the constant drone of motorways, airplanes,
computers, electric lights and central heating
often become so ingrained in our daily
experience that we forget the full significance of
sound to the formation of mood, self, identity and
Beginnings of
Theatrical Sound
• Tribal Gatherings, Rituals and Ceremonies
– Use of drum, rattles, and flutes
– Sound to add emphasis to the event
• Medieval Drama
– Use of specialized devices to
create an illusion
– Thunder, Rain, Explosions, other
natural effects.
Thunder Machine
• In Elizabethan Theatre music functioned to
create atmosphere and to effect transitions.
– Sound was a necessary element in these
– Many scripts had references to off-stage
sounds or “noises off” (sounds made offstage
intended for the ears of the audience): Bells,
whistles, chimes, thunder, baying hounds,
crash of armor, the clash of swords, etc.
Thornton Wilder’s
Our Town
• Wilder offered an opportunity (in 1938) for
a company of actors to create a complete
soundscape with live effects.
• The first production used no recorded
• It's deceptively simple.
– a celebration of small-town life set between
1901 and 1913.
Thornton Wilder’s
Our Town
• Opens with the women making breakfast for their
families. At the start of the 20th century, it's a
seriously labor-intensive effort. They have to pump
water, light their stoves, grind coffee beans and
carry bottles of milk inside, among other chores.
• The actresses have to get all of those individual
tasks across using only their bodies - there are no
props, and, aside from a table apiece, no set.
• The show has approximately 500 sound cues.
Live Radio Theatre
• Grew in popularity from the 20’s through the
– Radio Drama even impacted Television
• Use of live sound effects and some prerecorded effects.
Pre-Recorded Sound
• Limited until the mid-1930’s
• Sound effects recording became more
readily available.
• By the 1950’s tape recorders began to
replace record players as the main source of
sound and sound effects (although often
considered unreliable).
Broadway and
the 1950’s
• Directors with “Hollywood” backgrounds
(Garson Kanin and Arthur Penn) were the
most innovative.
– They tried to emulate the sound of cinema.
• Tapes and records were unreliable and
the sound quality was often poor.
• Often the first time a sound cue was heard
in rehearsal was during the 1st Tech.
The First Theatrical Sound
• Dan Dugan credited as the first
– Worked at the American
Conservatory Theatre in
San Francisco in the late 1960’s
• Broadway productions of Hair and Jesus Christ
Superstar also listed sound designers
– Bob Kernan & Abe Jacob respectively
• By the early 1980’s reel-to-reel tape recorders,
cassette decks, midi sampling keyboards and
the like were common in professional theatres.
End of the 20th Century
• 1990’s brought CD’s, mini-disk players,
DAT recorders, samplers, and the desktop
• As the cost of this equipment came down its
accessibility for smaller theatre operations
went up.
• Advances in software (computer controlled
sound systems) allowed the Sound Designer
to gain the same level of control that the
Lighting Designer.
Sound Design Today
• Once theatre directors and designers realized
the impact of sound and sound effects in the
cinema it was quickly adopted by the stage.
– Where once pre-recorded music was only used
for pre-show and curtain call; now entire
performances are underscored with music and
ambient sound.
• Innovations in technology continue to effect
sound and sound applications for live